On His 16th Birthday: Thoughts From a Teen Mom Who's All Grown Up

How did we get here? Sometimes, I'm not sure I even know.

On this day, 16 years ago, I was in a classroom at school, trying to sit calmly at my desk, listen to my Spanish teacher, and just make it to... I don't know what- the end of the day, maybe? When I finally came to the realization that I needed someone to help me, I went to the office, got them to call my mom so I could sign myself out for the day, and drove home. First I called my boyfriend, who met me there and left again, and then I called my parents at work to tell them that I needed to go to the hospital. I was 2 months shy of my 17th birthday, and I was having a baby.

I suspect that people's first reactions on reading this will be judgement. It is, after all, still the reaction I get most of the time when people find out that I am 32 years old and my oldest son is turning 16.


"You have a 16-year-old?!"

"You don't look old enough to have a 16 year-old!"

"But, really, how old ARE you?!"

Most of the time, I play these comments off. I answer with, "Oh, well, thank you" or "Technically, I'm not" or simply, "Yes, I do". Any response that is far from what I'm really thinking, which is basically, "It's none of your f*ing business!". But sometimes they make me angry. Like the time (when he was about one) a parent of one of my swimming lesson students told me, "I hope you don't mind, but I used you as an example when I was talking to my kids about not having sex before they're married." Or the person who said to me a few weeks ago (regarding the fact that my son is currently attending high school at my alma mater), "You had a baby and they let you come back?". I can't even make these things up.

He was born on a Wednesday, and I was back at school by the following Monday. In those days and weeks after he was born, I had a lot of adult choices to make. He was born premature- weighing in at 2 lbs., 10 oz.; his head could fit in the palm of my hand- and had some complications with his diaphragm that needed to be corrected. A social worker visited me to discuss the possibility of adoption. I had a lot of support from my parents, but these decisions- about adoption and medical care and surgeries- were ultimately mine to make.

The choice to raise my child at 17 brought with it a whole lot of other choices and changes. Up until that time, I was the epitome of the "good girl". I followed all the rules, I got good grades, I was involved in sports and extra-cirriculars, I held a job, and I spent time volunteering. I didn't drink, smoke, or do drugs. And after he was born, I continued most of those things. I got good grades, I held a job, I volunteered when I could. I earned an academic full-ride to my university of choice.

But there were things that I chose to give up- sports and extra-cirriculars- to be able to take care of him. And there were opportunities that were no longer afforded to me that I might otherwise have had. I went to Catholic school, so even though I was allowed to walk at graduation, in my senior year I was not accepted into the National Honor Society, because some of the teachers on the panel felt that my decisions did not reflect the appropriate qualities of a member of NHS. When I went to college, instead of living on campus, I lived at home and commuted. And I didn't spend a lot of time going out or partying like other people my age.

Please understand, I'm not complaining. I know that all these things were a direct result of my choices, and this kid is totally, absolutely worth it, 100%. He is a great kid- kind and thoughtful, intelligent and caring and perceptive- but I'm never sure if he is that way because of my parenting or inspite of it. I look back and wonder if I did enough. Did I spend enough time with him when he was little? Did I treat him with respect? Did I make the right choices in regards to his relationships with others? And, am I doing enough, now, to continue giving him love, support, and boundaries?

I've worked hard to be a good mom, I think. There are things I haven't been able to give him- opportunities to explore interests, mostly- but I hope that what I have given him is a strong foundation and a knowledge that he is supported. I try to be honest with all of my kids about my choices at this age, and to let them know that I hope for something different for them. NOT because I think my life was bad, but because it was harder than necessary, and I would choose something different for them. And I think he, of all of them, is MOST able to recognize that, having witnessed the dynamic between me and his dad and him.

But still, this is a scary milestone for me. Because I know what it's like to be the good kid. And I know how easy it is to make a poor choice. And I know how much one choice can change things.